Driving along Broad Street towards the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, the landscape is pretty much the same as it was 47 years ago [how do you know? Did a marcher from then say this?] when marchers assembled in the town for what would become a historic day in the annals of the Civil Rights struggle.
Those who marched peacefully along Broad Street on March 7, 1965, probably never considered that they were about to make history. Many of the marchers have a vivid memory of what happened to them on "Bloody Sunday" once they crossed the bridge enroute to the Alabama State Capital. However, for those who were not there, the photographic and video images produced on that dreadful day is indelibly etched on the consciousness of all who strive for justice and fairness.
Yet 47 years later, the Rev. Al Sharpton led thousands of marchers on a five-day trek to re-enact that memorable day but also to draw attention to present-day concerns affecting black and brown people not just in Alabama but across the United States.
Sharpton is convinced that tools of the Civil Rights movement, such as civil disobedience, demonstrations and other methods are still effective in producing change around several hotbed issues. He and those who joined him hit the pavement. The marched and retraced the steps of the brave souls who set out but were unable to complete the journey from Selma to Montgomery the first time. And they slept at the same places their predecessors did in their effort to shed light on current issues, particularly voting rights.
When asked why this march was so important to the younger generation, Sharpton was emphatic.
"The younger generations are the ones that will be in many ways negatively impacted by voter I.D. and immigration laws, so what I've enjoyed in my lifetime from '65 when I was 10 until now, they will not enjoy. This march is more for them than for those of us that are middle age and even the older crowd. We sought the right to the right to vote it is them [the younger generation] that they are trying to disenfranchise."
"I was so happy when Tyrese called me and said he was going to participate in this march because a lot of young people need to fight the battle of their time."
Sharpton recalled the march.
A single order came from the sheriff for some 600 marchers to abandon their march and return home after they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. No other words were given as the non-violent marchers were met with the thumps of the billy club, the wrongful use of the teargas, and the kicks and stomps from the mounted state police officers. The aggressive response to marchers led to a symbolic march by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. On Sunday, March 21, about 3,200 marchers led by King set out for Montgomery. They walked about 12 miles a day and sleeping in fields. When they reached the capitol on Thursday, March 25, the demonstrators numbered more than 25,000. Less than five months after the last of the three marches, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
When Johnson, signed the law it was created to end discriminatory voting practices that had been responsible for the widespread disenfranchisement of African Americans in the United States; however, instead of wiping out those discriminatory practices new practices were created like poll taxes and literacy tests.
Fast forward to the present. According to the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Urban League, 34 states in the past 12 to 18 months have introduced voter suppression measures and legislation that would require a government-issued photo ID, shorter voting hours, a curtailment of early voting, and/or the imposition of penalties limiting the registration process is pending in 27 states. Overall, efforts to suppress voter turnout now include: photo ID requirements; proof of citizenship requirements for registration; reducing the number of days for early voting; restrictions on third-party voter registration activities; limiting the opportunity to make an address change at the polls on election day; systematic purges of registered voters; challenges to student voters as non-residents; unfounded allegations of voter fraud; and moving or closing precincts in minority communities.
As the presidential election looms nearer the issues of voter rights become more important in the African American community, Sharpton said. As thousands left Montgomery on Friday, March 9, they left with one message: Respect your vote and continue to fight for it.